DNA ancestry testing kits: When you get unexpected results
Australian academics are warning that anyone who has given DNA samples to sites such as Ancestry.com could see their data examined by police as part of criminal investigations. Fairfax has reported that Ancestry.com fielded 34 police requests for DNA searches last year, primarily from the United States and Germany.
Linda Ketchum discovered she wasnât exactly who she thought she was after doing a DNA ancestry test. Picture: John Chapple/MegaSource:Mega
WHEN Linda Ketchum asked her husband for an AncestryDNA kit for Chr istmas, it was just a lark. She had no family secrets she was trying to uncover, no genealogy mysteries that needed answers. She was just curious.
âMy dad was German, and my mother was Scottish-English,â Ketchum, from Glendale, California in the US, told the New York Post. âI thought itâd be fun to learn a little about my genetic ethnicity, to trace how all the pieces came together.â
But she ended up getting far more than she bargained for.
When she went on the AncestryDNA site to view her DNA matches, there were no connections between her and her father. On top of that, at least two-thirds of Ketchumâs matches had Hispanic surnames.
âAt first I didnât believe it,â she says. âBut then I kept rechecking it, and I realised, oh my God, does this mean Iâm â¦ Iâm Hispanic! All these years I thought I was German on my dadâs side, but all of a sudden it was dawning on me that my dad wasnât my real dad and I had an entirely different ethn icity.â
Linda Ketchum had her idea of who she was turned upside down after doing an ancestry DNA test. Picture: John Chapple/MegaSource:Mega
At 51, Ketchumâs familial and cultural identity had changed in an instant. âI looked in the mirror, and I didnât know who I was anymore,â she says. âEvery Hispanic person I saw on the street, I thought, âAre you my cousin?â â
As an only child whose parents were both deceased, she had nobody to turn to for answers. So she kept searching on AncestryDNA. She finally discovered the identity of her biological father, Bill Chavez of New Mexico, who had died when Ketchum was just 17.
âIt kind of consumed me,â says the mother of eight. âI still wonder sometimes, would my life have been diffe rent if Iâd known this earlier? My real father, my actual grandparents, they all spoke fluent Spanish. I canât even speak a word of it!â
Although no one can confirm what she assumes was an affair between her mother and Bill Chavez, she claims sheâs had âflashbacksâ since learning about her real dad. âI remember my mom bringing me to Billâs house when I was really young,â she says. âI can so clearly see myself in that kitchen, Bill is sitting at the table, and thereâs another woman there in a pink housecoat. Sheâs friendly but not warm. I remember his wifeâs name was Rose. I donât know if the woman I met was his wife.â
She joined a secret Facebook community called DNA NPE Friends â" NPE is short for âNot Parent Expectedââ" and found not just the support she needed but a reminder that sheâs far from alone.
An Ancestry.com DNA test kit. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied
âI never realised that there are so many others,â Ketchum says. âAll over the country, DNA is blowing up family secrets.â
Business has never been better for whatâs often called ârecreational genetics.â The number of people whoâve had their DNA analysed â" which involves mailing your saliva or cheek swab to a genetic testing company like 23andMe, AncestryDNA, Family Tree DNA, or My Heritage â" doubled in 2017, with more than 12 million customers, or roughly 1 in 25 American adults paying to have their genes decoded.
What these companies are offering can sound tantalising to anybody with even the mildest interest in genealogy. For just $100 â" the average cost of a direct-to-consumer genetic genealogy test â" you can âLearn a more complete story of you,â as AncestryDNAâs website declares, or âFind new relatives you never knew existed,â promises 23andMe.
Itâs only when you get to the fine print that the possibility of a genetic bombshell becomes more apparent: âYou may discover things about yourself that trouble you and that you may not have the ability to control or change,â warns 23andMeâs terms-of-service statement.
This burgeoning genealogy-on-demand marketplace â" which some projections claim could be worth an estimated $60 billion in sales by 2020 â" has spawned its own unique syndrome. Call it PTDD: post-traumatic DNA-test-results disorder.
The NPE Facebook community, launched by Catherine St Clair last summer, is already up to 2,364 members (at press time) despite a rigorous screening process. (You canât join the group unless youâve actually gotten the DNA rug pulled out from under you. Lurkers need not apply.)
âPeople donât get that it really is a significant trauma,â says St Clair, a 56-year-old Texan who discovered through Ancestry.com that her biological father wasnât the same person who raised her.
Because the home genetics industry is still relatively new â" the first tests didnât become commercially available until 2007 â" there isnât research in the long-term psychological effects of getting bad DNA news, says science writer Carl Zimmer, author of the newly released book She Has Her Motherâs Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity. But, he adds, âThereâs evidence that some people may end up grappling with test results for a long time, especially if they didnât prepare themselves for the possibility of a surprise.â
This article originally appeared on the New York Post and has been republished with permission.Source: Google News US Science | Netizen 24 United States